Magazine article Musical Times

Ayo Bankole at 80

Magazine article Musical Times

Ayo Bankole at 80

Article excerpt

Ayo Bankole was born on 17 May 1935. He would have been 80 in May.

Colonisation, and European and American missionary endeavours in Nigeria from the mid-içth century to the 1960s exposed the nation's people to bicultural experiences that ultimately permeated every aspect of its landscape. These powerful contacts ushered in a bimusical ethos analogous to bilingualism. It was in such an environment that Ayo Bankole was nurtured and formed. As a Nigerian composer writing and performing Western classical music, Bankole may be considered an archetype of interculturalism. While most of his solo piano and organ music is strictly Western in conception and realisation, his vocal works are well-infused with an indigenous Nigerian flavour. To this interculturalism may be added the influence of religion and, accordingly, Bankole's compositions inhabit sacred as well as secular worlds.

Ayo Bankole was born on 17 May 1935 at Jos, in Plateau State of Nigeria. He was a chorister at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos, in the 1940s, under its then Master of the Music, Thomas Ekundayo Phillips (1884-1969). Phillips gave Bankole his early musical training in theory, piano, and organ. In August 1957 Bankole left Nigeria on a Federal Government Scholarship to study at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London, where he concentrated on piano, organ and composition. Between 1958 and 1961 he represented the Guildhall School at several youth concerts organised by the four London music colleges, and he was later invited by Sir Malcolm Sargent to play the organ at the Royal Albert Hall during the Henry Wood Memorial Concerts. In addition to his activities as organist and composer at Guildhall, Bankole organised and trained a special mixed choir, made up of fellow students attracted by the Nigerian melodies and scintillating rhythms embedded in his compositions, most of them in the Yoruba language and musical idiom. After four years of study at Guildhall, Bankole was awarded an organ scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge, obtaining a BA in music in 1964. While at Cambridge, he also passed his FRCO, making him the second Nigerian after Felá Sowande to receive this diploma. After Cambridge, Bankole received a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to study ethnomusicology with Roy Travis, at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Bankole returned to Nigeria in 1966 and was appointed Senior Producer in Music at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (now Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria), Lagos. He remained in this position until 1969, when he accepted a lectureship in music at the School of African and Asian Studies, University of Lagos. There, he combined the roles of music educator, composer, choral conductor, performer and musicologist and intensified his interest in organising and training independent choral groups, among them the Choir of Angels, comprised of students from three prominent high schools in Lagos (Reagan Memorial, Lagos Anglican Girls Grammar School, and the Methodist Girls High School), Lagos University Musical Society, Nigerian National Musico-Cultural Society, and Chapel of the Healing Cross Choir, all situated in the Lagos. Bankole composed in several musical genres, including organ, piano, choral works and solo art songs. Sadly, he and his wife, Toro Bankole, were brutally murdered by his own half-brother in Lagos, on 6 November 1976, while he was still in his creative prime.

Three toccatas

Three toccatas for organ was composed between 1962 and 1964 while Bankole was at Clare College, a period that marked the second phase of his experimental works influenced by some of the early 20th-century compositional devices which the composer was exposed to while studying in England. He was clearly writing these works for European virtuoso organists and audiences rather than African performers. In the 1960s, the only Nigerian organist that would have been able to tackle Bankole's Toccatas was Felá Sowande, who during the late 1960s had settled in the United States and focused on research, teaching and musicology. …

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